Hanford: Absentee voting rules are unfair for elderly

Guilford County’s Cindy Hanford wrote an lte on problems with absentee voting.  It was published around 4/25/14 at http://m.news-record.com/opinion/letters_to_editor/article_32734c58-ccc7-11e3-b4dc-0017a43b2370.html?mode=jqm

GuilfordCoYourChoiceYourVote

Here is Hanford’s more comprehensive writeup on problems caused by NC’s voter ID law for people with disabilities and the elderly.

The implications of NC’s new voter ID law for people with disabilities and the elderly are being ignored by most, including by the organizations that have filed law suits on other aspects of the law. New rules related to both on-site and absentee balloting make it very difficult for the disabled and elderly to vote. A homebound person already is dependent upon asking people for favors; the right to vote should not be one of them. Here are my numerous concerns about the onerous nature of the new law for the disabled:

Limiting the time for early voting means longer lines at polling places, an obstacle for the elderly and disabled. Disallowing same day registration means voters must make two trips (the first time) when an elderly or disabled person may not have access to transportation or to the site (Sites should be wheelchair accessible, but people without wheelchairs may not be able to walk the necessary distance or stand for long periods).

The elderly and disabled may not be able to go get a picture ID. Without one, they are required to give the last four digits of their Social Security number or provide copies of documents that leave them open to identity theft (even if they have a way to make a copy, which they probably do not).

Many elderly and disabled people MUST vote by absentee ballot. The new requirement for two witnesses or a notary on an absentee ballot is unreasonable. Many homebound people never see two adults at the same time and cannot go out to see a notary. NC previously required one witness signature on the outside envelope. This was already a major obstacle if the only person seen regularly by the homebound person held different political views. Other states do not require any witnesses – receiving a ballot at your address and signing a pledge that states the penalties for voting fraud is sufficient.

The disabled and elderly in nursing facilities cannot get assistance from any employee of the facility, while many residents seldom see two outside guests at the same time. Upon the request of a nursing facility, the Elections Board may send “Multi-partisan Assistance Teams” in order to provide impartial witnesses for absentee ballots – a good provision, but the requests are not being made by most facilities and the homebound do not have this option.

Not only do the witnesses (or notary) have to witness the voter’s signature on the outer envelope, but they must pledge that they witnessed the completion of the ballot itself – i.e., absentee voters have no privacy in HOW they vote. While the actual law states that witnesses “respect the secrecy of the ballot,” this instruction is not on the ballot envelope (at least not in Guilford County), while the requirement to witness the ballot is. This is an attack on the most sacred principles of voting in a democracy, and an attack on the most vulnerable voters, who can potentially be intimidated into voting a certain way. Domestic abuse is common among the homebound. No one should be required to have someone witness the marking of the actual ballot unless they require assistance.

The disabled encounter many obstacles in just dealing with daily routines. When faced with these obstacles to voting, many will decide they are just not able to fight for the right to vote. It is only because I have been politically active my entire life and know about what suffragists went through to ensure our right to vote, that I insist I will not give up mine.

As a democracy, we are already being undermined by the Supreme Court’s insistence that money in politics is protected by free speech and by the gerrymandering of districts. The only protection we have for remaining a democracy is for people to be able to vote.

The elderly and disabled have specific needs in our society, and their concerns on subjects like Social Security and Medicare are unique and need representation in government. By limiting their votes, we limit our democracy.

-Cindy Hanford
 Guilford County

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